I don’t know how many times I’ve written and spoken about how a profound loss, or losses, brings profound changes in your life and outlook.
I guess we can all reflect back on the crossroads in our lives. Beginnings and endings of relationships, a career move, childbirth, and so on. Many of these had elements of choice – although we might have been fired from our job or been separated unwillingly from a partner. But generally, when we came to those crossroads we had some agency in choosing our next road.
One of the hardest aspects of living with loss through bereavement, in my opinion, is that loss of agency. Our loved one’s death was out of our control, and as we are swept along on the tidal waves of grief, we may not feel like we have any power at all over what’s happening to us.
Managing the funeral is one way of starting to exert ourselves again, although even in this we can find ourselves being pushed and pulled by family members.
As time goes on, we might find our priorities have changed. We might see ourselves and our life prospects quite differently. We might be faced with questions and decisions that we had never expected, and if we’ve lost our partner and/or we find ourselves alone in our grief for whatever reason, it can be hard to find the courage we need to take the next steps.
It’s good when we can start doing this. Little decisions, big choices, little steps, big steps. The more we find our footing in our changed life’s circumstances, the better.
Sometimes doing what is right for us now is very different to how we saw things before.
This weekend I went up to the quiet cemetery where Catherine is buried to discuss the reservation of my own plot, in front of hers. It isn’t particularly cheap to reserve. I’ve never had much money – there was a time during my pregnancy with Pax that all I could afford to eat was lentils and rice, although thankfully things have never been so bad again. In any case, the way I have managed has always been to live with simple expectations. And a plot of land which I will not live to see or that anyone will really benefit from, if I’m being brutally honest, is a bit of an extravagance. The reality too is that with friends and family members scattered around the globe, it is unlikely anyone will even visit once I am gone. But having a plot next to Catherine’s – which also has some soil from where Pax was buried in Bhopal (India) – is really important to me. A lot of people are happy with cremation and scattering of ashes, but I want a bit of land to be buried in. And so, I will reserve my 6 foot of land.
When we make our living-with-loss decisions, we might be at the receiving end of good advice, but they still need to our decisions. We are the ones on our own particular journey, and if it feels right to us – providing it is not causing actual harm – why not? If we want to spread a blanket of flowers over our loved one’s grave, if we want to preserve their room for a time, or go on a holiday they always wanted to take, why not? If we want to light candles every evening, create photo collages or dedicate a memorial bench, why not? If we want to move house or change our job or seek out a new relationship, why not?
I am increasingly convinced that most of us can find within ourselves what we want to do, how we want to express our grief, and how we can go forward. If our friends and family can support us, that is great and a true blessing. But sometimes we just need to ignore other people and do what’s right for us as we see things now. Sometimes we even need to ignore our old self and do what is right for us now.
And so I am going to have a plot in Alton, and I hope you will find your own ways through too.